Who Owns the Holy Land?

Manfred E. Kober, Th.D.

This frequently asked question deserves an answer in light of the world’s focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

1. The current conflict:

The whole Western world is once again drawn into the conflict in the Near East. The recent upheavals and revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria and Jordan underscore the volatile situation in the region. The main controversy, however, centers on the Holy Land. Here two ancient people, the Jews and Arabs, lay claim to the same piece of real estate. The Israelis call it by its ancient name, Israel. The Arabs refer to it as the Land of Palestine.

Sadly, the Palestinian leadership has never recognized Israel’s right to exist.
Since Israel gained its independence in 1948, her neighbors have waged 5 wars in an effort to drive Israel into the sea.

Both people descended from Abraham who lived 4000 years ago. The Israelites, known as Jews today, descended from Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. The Arabs are descendants of Ishmael and Esau.

2. The covenantal promises:

God in His sovereignty selected Abraham’s line through Isaac and Jacob to receive special promises. These include a great nation, great honor and universal blessings. These blessings would come especially through the Messiah, a descendant of David (2. Sam. 7:12-16).

a. The promise of the land:

God made a solemn, unconditional covenant with Abraham and assured him that “unto thy seed have I given the land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” Gen. 15:18).

b. The possession of the land:

God insists that the land belongs to Him and warns the nations around Israel “who with glee and malice in their hearts have made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland” (Ez. 36:5, translation by Ralph A. Alexander in The Expositor’s Commentary).

Obviously, if it is God’s land, neither the Jews nor Muslims own it. He does and He has every right to dispense with the land as He wishes.

c. The purpose of God concerning the land.

God has a special reason for giving Israel the land after He gathers them from being scattered among the nations. “Thus saith the Lord God, I do not do this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but mine holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the heathen, for I will gather you among the heathen . . . and will bring you into your own land” (Ez. 36:22, 24).

The promise is that God will give the land to Israel not because they deserve it but because His honor is at stake. He delights to be known as Yahweh (Jehovah), the covenant-keeping God. To put it another way, Israel’s future is guaranteed by the faithfulness of her God.

3. The certain fulfillment:

This final gathering will culminate at the Second Advent at which time Christ will redeem Israel, giving them a new heart and new spirit (Ez.36:26). At that time a resurrected King David will ruler over the twelve tribes (Hos. 3:5) who will at last possess the Promised Land (Ez. 74-48), an unconditional promise made to Abraham in 2000 B.C.

Christ will rule the nations from Jerusalem (Is. 4:2-6) and they will be delighted to be in His presence and to be blessed by Him (Mic. 4:1-4). The Church will join Christ in that privileged rule (1. Cor. 6:2-3).

4. The contemporary situation:

a. The division among evangelical Christians:

Today Israel is seen by many nations as a nuisance at best and a hindrance to world peace at worst. Among believers two major attitudes toward Israel may be discerned. One group sees no fulfillment of the land promises, insisting that they were fulfilled in the past or that God abrogated His promises because of Israel’s unbelief. Many insist that the Church has replaced Israel. Another group of evangelicals, (we at MSI among them) take God’s promises literally and await a future fulfillment. They consider the Jews as a people favored by God. The Lord calls Israel “the apple of mine eye” even while the nation is in unbelief (Deut. 32:10; Zech. 2:8). As a nation today, Israel has every right to their ancient homeland, from which they were expelled. The concept of Zionism, so loathed by many, simply describes the right of Israel as a nation to live in its land.

There are regrettably some evangelicals who not only deny Israel’s future redemption and possession of the land but also react vitriolically to those who see a glorious future for the embattled nation. As case in point is Brian McLaren, a leader in the Emergent Church movement. He feels a “need to confront the terrible, deadly, distorted, yet popular theologies associated with Christian Zionism and deterministic dispensationalism” (Sojourners, April 16, 2009). Actually, dispensationalists are simply consistent in the interpretation of prophecy which foresees a redeemed Israel dwelling in the land promised to them. Neither do they forget that in the present Arab-Israeli conflict God works out His divine purpose. Observant believers can discern His providential presence in the establishment of the modern state of Israel.

b. The demand of ethical conduct:

While it is important to know about the future, it is imperative to live godly lives in the present. We should be concerned about the physical and spiritual needs of individuals. Dr. Ryrie succinctly states that “a concern for people, more than politics or even prophecy brings the Palestinian problem into proper perspective for the Christian (“Perspective on Palestine,” Christianity Today, May 23, 1969, p.8).

Both Arabs and Israelis need the gospel. They should be included in our humanitarian concerns and prayerful intercession. True peace will come to the Near East only when the Prince of Peace returns. As Jews and Arabs turn in worship to the Lord, He will extend his blessings to them: “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance” (Is.19:24).

© Manfred E Kober

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